Power station could be reborn as cultural hub

City planners have proposed the development of a huge new cultural and entertainment centre at the Athlone power station in Cape Town.

If the development goes ahead, it could mean the demolition of the landmark cooling towers next to the N2.

The municipality's spatial planners have put forward an innovative development concept in which the towers would make way for a modern 30-hectare "mixed-node" development offering a range of recreational, commercial, residential and cultural opportunities.

The development could include theatres, boutique hotels, restaurants, shops, a world-class arts and cultural complex, an estimated 3 000 residential units and a city rail "heritage" site for historic locomotives and trains.

The exciting development concept for the site has won a prestigious award from the Union of International Architects in its competition in

the "Celebration of Cities" category.

And while the development still has to go through a long process of assessment and approval by the city as well as a comprehensive public participation process, planners believe such a project would be a landmark development which would draw tourists from across the world.

Brian Watkyns, chairperson of the city's planning and environmental portfolio committee, said the concept offered "an exciting and innovative" vision to redevelop the site.

"It would be a significant development. The old historic buildings would undoubtedly attract great interest, and for me the bonus would be that

we would finally be able to get rid of the unsightly cooling towers."

Watkyns said he was also concerned about the effect of the smell from the nearby sewerage plant. "This is obviously something we will have to address once the go-ahead for the project is given."

Kier Hennessy of the city's spatial development directorate was tasked to put together a report on the project that was handed to the planning portfolio committee this week.

Hennessy said people would not only visit the area to meet, shop and have fun, but many would also find homes in the suggested 3 000 residential units that would be built as part of the development.

"The (historic) power station buildings have the potential to house a combination of theatres, boutique hotels, restaurants and shops."

Hennessy said the historic buildings, which include two 99metres-high brick chimneys that would be retained, the old main power station facebrick building, the impressive coal bunker and a host of other old buildings, would in themselves become attractions.

"Similarly rail access and sidings on the site could be used for rail heritage as well as current rolling stock including 'hotel' and special trains such as Rovos Rail and Spier type trains."

Hennessy said an important opportunity existed to redevelop the site and the historic buildings into a vibrant and attractive venue comparable in quality to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.

He said the site was ideally situated off the N2 and between three of Cape Town's oldest residential suburbs: Langa, Pinelands and Athlone.

Referring to the two cooling towers, he said the structures were not very strong and would probably not be retained.

However the two power station chimneys, built of high quality imported facebricks, would probably become the landmarks in the area.

Barbara Southworth, director city spatial development, said while the concept was exciting, a lot of work still had to be done before the construction phase could start. "There is still a lengthy process ahead and we need to establish exactly what needs to be done.

"The whole process has to be fair and we need to engage with all the communities and all the roleplayers.

"There has already been a lot of interest in the site and it is vital that we make sure that such a proposed development is done correctly. If we do it right such a development could become a landmark that will draw people from all over the world."

  • The Athlone power station was commissioned in 1961 and provided coal-fired power until 2003 when operations ended, it having become economically unviable.

    Although the station has not been officially closed it has been mothballed for years, and is now being de-commissioned.

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